Have you ever wondered how a therapist would diagnose some of the best villains in movie history? Or, have you ever engaged in a debate among friends about who were the most realistic villains ever?
It turns out there’s a study for both of those, and Javier Bardem of No Country for Old Men got a standing ovation for his portrayal of Anton Chigurh.
First published in December of 2013 in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, the study looks back at 95 years (1915-2010) of movies. The authors dissected 400 flicks and 126 fictional villains. Of those characters, 105 were male, and 21 were female. In addition to Anton Chigurh, scientists looked at some of the other best villains, including The Godfather: Part II’s Michael Corleone and Psycho’s Normal Bates. Misery’s Annie Wilkes also fell on the researcher’s radars.
Wait, what about Darth Vader and Voldemort? Researchers did not look at villains with magical powers or who were invincible. Villains had to be humans.
Their objective wasn’t to come up with a listicle of the best villains in psychopath movies.
Instead, they wanted to determine if these infamous villains were portrayed accurately. To do so, they enlisted senior forensic psychiatrists and cinema critics to join forces and analyze the characters.
What were the criteria? In the case study, researchers separated characters into “primary” and “secondary” psychopaths, which is in line with other research (but not all). Primary psychopaths are a product of nature (their traits are genetic), while their secondary are products of nurture (i.e., environments). Authors used widely-accepted traits of psychopaths, including the following:
- Shallow emotions
- Insincere speech
- Poor planning abilities
- Violent tendencies
Senior forensic psychiatrists and cinema critics used this criterion as they analyzed the films and their psychopathic characters. In the end, the authors concluded that it was rare to have a realistic fictional portrayal of a true psychopath.
Anton Chigurh fit the bill as an exception — he’s a bonafide psychopath. Researchers cited his “incapacity for love, absence of shame or remorse, lack of psychological insight, inability to learn from past experience, cold-blooded attitude, ruthlessness, total determination, and lack of empathy.”
Sounds about right. For good measure, they added that “he seems to be effectively invulnerable and resistant to any form of emotion or humanity.”
Take a bow, Javier Bardem of No Country for Old Men.
The study recently resurfaced in a Reddit thread, and the Internet agrees with the experts.
Researchers also pointed to Henry of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer as a realistic portrayal of a psychopath.
“Dude was terrifying,” wrote one Redditor.
“This dude always…scared me. You could never get away from him. He always found you,” said another.
The only way to get away from him? Turn off the movie, which one Redditor had to do.
“I couldn’t watch it,” the user admitted.
Maybe a comedy flick would be better?
Despite the widespread inaccurate portrayals of psychopaths in movies — other than Anton Chigurh — their researchers said they remained important “for didactic purposes in academic facilities, as ‘teaching movies.’”
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